BERLIN — BMW has agreed to a settlement proposed by the European Commission to end an antitrust investigation, while Volkswagen Group said it is considering whether to take legal action over the matter.
The European Commission said on Thursday that the three major German automakers breached EU antitrust rules by restricting competition in emission cleaning for diesel cars. The charges relate to collusion on setting standards for the Adblue additive used to reduce harmful NOx pollutants.
The Commission fined BMW and Volkswagen Group a total of 875 million euros ($1 billion), said but Daimler was not fined because it revealed the existence of the cartel.
BMW said it had paid a 373 million euro fine but other charges related to emissions technology were dropped. The automaker said it had been cleared of suspicion of using illegal ‘defeat devices’ to cheat emissions tests.
“This underlines that there has never been any allegation of unlawful manipulation of emission control systems by the BMW Group,” the company said in a statement.
VW, which was fined 502 million euros, said on Thursday it is considering whether to take legal action, saying the penalty over technical talks about emissions technology with other automakers set a questionable precedent.
“The Commission is entering new judicial territory, because it is treating technical cooperation for the first time as an antitrust violation,” VW said.
“Furthermore, it is imposing fines, although the content of the talks was never implemented and no customers suffered any harm as a result,” VW added in a statement.
The automaker called for clearer guidelines: “The high fines imposed in this case underscore the need for more comprehensive guidance from the Commission to ensure that legal uncertainty does not hamper innovation in Europe,” it said.
EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said on Thursday that the automakers, including VW Group’s Audi and Porsche brands, possessed the technology to reduce harmful emissions beyond what was legally required under EU emission standards “but they avoided to compete on using this technology’s full potential to clean better than what is required by law.”
“So today’s decision is about how legitimate technical cooperation went wrong. And we do not tolerate it when companies collude,” Vestager said.
The case was not related to VW Group’s use of illegal defeat devices to cheat emissions tests.